Hop Sensory: Kansas Hop Company
I have been working on a hop sensory journal on and off for a while, and have finally made some progress. The outline below comes from looking at several different carts out there – some are relatively simple (5 categories) and others extremely complex (23 or more categories). I tried to strike a balance and settled on 10 major categories, though some are groups rather than a single element.
I grouped the most common off aromas together: Onion/Garlic and Cheesy. Onion and Garlic aromas come from hops left too long on the bine and are over-ripe before when harvested. Oxidized or poorly stored hops will give you a cheesy aroma.
Feel free to use the chart. If you do, I’d love to get a copy of your notes if you’re up for sharing- I’ve started to compile a database of hop evaluations, and would love to include more than just my own observations.
Remember, when doing sensory evaluations, that there is no wrong answer. We all smell/experience/perceive things differently based on our experiences and our bodies. Some people are super sensitive to certain types of aromas, and not to others. That’s totally normal and ok. You might never have run into a white grapefruit before, so maybe that comes across as lime and funky spice. If you smell it, you smell it.
As you do more and more focused sensory analysis of a certain type, you’ll get better at it. Just like when you first started drinking beer, most IPAs probably tasted the same or at least very similar. Over time you’ve likely developed the ability to tell a West Coast IPA from an English Style IPA. An American Pale Ale from an English Mild Ale. New England IPAs, from well, all other IPAs. The point is, as you do something over and over, you’ll get better at it. Your descriptions will get more precise and detailed. You’ll be able to successfully evaluate more hops in one sitting. (Start with a 2-4 and work slowly up from there.)
I’ve been meaning to focus more on doing this myself for the last couple of years, but haven’t done it. New Year, new project. Here we go.
First up are five hops from Ryan and the crew at Kansas Hop Company. Their farm is a little south and west from Kansas City. We’ve featured their Kanook (Chinook) and Comet in a couple of the monthly subscription packs. For more info on the farm check out my Q&A with Ryan.
For each of the hops below, I steeped 12 grams of pellets in 2 cups 190F water for 20 minutes.
I wanted to start with Columbus, since it’s typically an overlooked hop. So often relegated to way to get bitterness into a beer, Columbus and other traditional bittering hops often have delicate aromas if used toward the end of the boil. The Columbus had a pleasant aroma of freshly cut wood, with a hay/straw tone just behind that and hints of lemon flowers and lemon-lime. I’d use this in a Stout or Porter to accentuate woody/barrel-like flavors or in session beers: Pale Ale, Cream Ale or Wheat Ales.
The Super Cascade (Centennial) had a funk, resinous backbone that set up some floral (rose/lily blossom), lemon zest and black tea aromas nicely. Slight earthiness in the background. This would be a solid IPA hop in combination with another more fruit driven variety.
I like Comet, and have brewed a couple of times with the 2019 crop from Kansas Hop Company. Sometimes called “Citra’s little sister” even though it’s an older variety. This crop had strong orange flesh and red grapefruit aromas, some mango notes and green tea in the background. Hints of roses and grass too. Toss this in an IPA, NEIPA (works well with Mosaic) or an Amber Ale.
The Kanook was the first hop I checked out from this farm, and it’s one of the reasons I keep coming back. There is just a hint of pine needles in the background (I dislike intensely piney beers, so this is a huge plus in my book). The aromas focus around a strong, mildly sweet pineapple core with lime juice and floral high notes. I’d swear there was a cherry blossom note in there somewhere. IPAs and Pale Ales are the easy choice here, but what about a British Golden Ale, Brown Ale or American Strong Ale?
The Cascade lead with a waxy, green papaya scent that gave way to bright lemon zest, a touch of pith and pomelo aromas. I got some lemongrass and tarragon herbal notes and grassy hints. There is a whiff of garlic in the background, but I’m guess that will be gone in the boil. Single hopped summer ales will let this shine, or complement it with the Columbus and Comet in heavier IPAs or hazy beers.
Want to try out some of the hops for yourself? Kansas Hop Company sells in homebrew (and commercial) sized packages from their website. Visit them here.